Make Gold In: An Interview with Jon-Michael Frank

Ohio Interviews


Jon-Michael Frank’s new book, Here It Is My Beautiful Fucking Heart is out now and available here!! Here’s the beautiful fucking trailer!

Interview by Gillian Bradshaw

When did you start making illustrations? Where did you draw your inspiration from then, and where do you draw it from now?

I think I started forever ago. Like even in the womb, tracing cave paintings on the walls. Putting my feelings out there, you know. My early memories are shit. But I distinctly remember being reprimanded in elementary school for scribbling black crayon over everything. I drank a lot of apple juice back then. Those were torturous times.

I’m not sure what inspired me back then. Probably like video games and whatever fantasy the powers-that-be would let my reality allow. I remember stealing all the time when I was a kid. Not like, “conceptually” though, like junk from the corner store. I suppose it’s the same shit as now. Cramming whatever world in my brain into what’s left of this shitty one. That, and like, geniuses: Bill Traylor, Darlene Love, Fairfield Porter, Andy Kaufman, B. Kliban, Tori Amos, Buson, Ray Johnson, The Cure.

Lastly, Christina Spinelli. I first started the kind of comics that I’m doing today in her house in Cambridge, MA. I think it was summer but it doesn’t really matter, because she’s one of those people who have their own kind of weather, a weather you can’t really get anywhere else. Well, I was showering in her house obsessing over beans. Like rows and rows and rows of cans of beans. And then when I got out and dried off, dressed, that kind of crap, I started drawing comics about beans and teeth on her floor. She had great wood floors. We spent that night listening to Coyle & Sharpe on the radio until night dropped and then we fell asleep to a show about real science fiction.

Jon-Michael Frank


Sometimes the text in your work seems to contrast with the image and at others times to respond to it (sarcastically or otherwise). How would you characterize the relationship between text and image in the majority of your work?

It’s like that scene in Rocky where Paulie asks Rocky why he’s with Adrian and Rocky says, “I dunno. She’s got gaps, I got gaps, together we fill gaps.”
How do your ideas come to you? Which do you come up with first–an image, or an idea in need of an accompanying image?

I suppose it’s an either/or kinda thing. Sometimes I think about images of ice cream and realize there’s something really abominable about this existence, other times I say something like, “is it always going to be like this” and come up with a hangnail, or like an empty pizza box, or like just Fred Durst’s face, or like someone playing chess against themselves without any chess pieces, or like a sunset but instead of the sun it’s just a breast but on the breast, instead of a nipple, it’s just a tattoo that says fuck the government, or like U2’s new album coming already uploaded onto your unborn children, or like a toilet with a rose in it, or like a tarot card that says your parents never loved you, or like a hamburger in a baby carriage, or like you are in this banana suit and everyone else is dead, or like all your past lives are Magic the Gathering cards, or like a corn maze with a corn maze at the end of it, or like an angel wearing a smiley face t-shirt to your funeral.

I hear you’re an art teacher. What idea do you most wish you could impart to your students? 

I actually teach English but I think I’d rather do art. I don’t think you can teach English and have any real appreciation for living, maybe. English teachers also have to be some of the worst dressed people in the world. That being said, I’m a big proponent of teaching young people how much life sucks, and then emphasizing to them the need to repurpose their life against that notion. It’s all about providence, isn’t it. That and having a lot of money so that even though you may hate yourself, at least you know people out there envy you. But in all seriousness, I’d like people in my class to get a sense of the value of doors. Like big, monstrous, baleful, Victorian doors. Keep shit, or the world out, make gold in.
I read on Chad Reynolds’ blog that you have a book. Could you tell us a little about it?

Oh yeah, The Wheelbarrow Oms. I wrote that book when I didn’t know anything—but in some ways, that was a good thing. I was halfway to Austin, Texas and then I was all the way there. I was taken by all the grackles that congregate at the grocery stores around dusk. The whole sky looked like a Roy Orbison song then. One of the sad, menacing ones, though, not like “Pretty Woman.” That’s more what I think of when I see racks of Hawaiian shirts at a second hand store. Anyway, The Wheelbarrow Oms is on hiatus now.

I’ve got a chapbook called Diana Ross & The Supremes coming out on Birds, LLC (The Dream Team of poetry) soon. It’s a little thing but there are oceans and Percocets and blonde goth girls in it. I grew up listening to doo-wop and then all of a sudden you are sad. It’s about that, I guess. I remember, in the early 90s, seeing older kids with long hair and half their head shaved, kind of like what’s popular now, wishing I could have hair like that. By the time I was old enough to get my own haircuts, lamentably, the fad was over, but by then, drugs and disenchantment was a thing. Oh, it’s poetry too, whatever that is.

I saw Diana Ross a few years ago. I went by myself. She had multiple costume changes throughout the show. Each dress was sequins though. She seemed kind of insane. The whole thing was strange, oneiric: being alone in a dark theater, blinded by chameleon sequins while Diana Ross tells you what love is/was. Pop songs, man, nothing more beautiful or dolorous. I think you can find out exactly what kind of person you are listening to pop songs. Either way, I hope the book is fucking awesome.


Jon-Michael Frank has work published or forthcoming in Big Lucks, Inter/rupture, Sink Review, Sixth Finch, and Spork Press, among others. A chapbook of poems is forthcoming from Birds LLC, and another poetry/comic chapbook, Here It Is My Beautiful Fucking Heart, was just released by El Aleph Press. Jon-Michael is also an assistant editor for the small press BIRDS, LLC, helps run a reading series in Austin, TX called Fun Party, and sells illustrations about life, or the lack of it, on etsy. His custom design for Ohio Edit can be found on a wide array of objects under the “For Sale” tab above!!